Wednesday 28 March 2007

Blogs and pamphleteering: virtual resistance

The thousands of bloggers who use the web to question the status quo are continuing a proud tradition, argues Christian Hogsbjerg

Since the invention of the printing press, every great social upheaval in modern history has been preceded and accompanied by an explosion of political pamphleteering.

What often began with a few isolated dissident intellectuals calling for the overthrow of a particularly dictatorial tyrant became, in periods of revolution, a flood of paper – as thousands found the freedom and confidence to voice their dreams of a completely new society for the first time.

The classic example here is probably that of the Enlightenment, which in Paris before the French Revolution inspired a profusion of satirical pamphlets flowing from numerous pens.

Historian Robert Darnton describes “an illicit literature of vitriolic pamphlets” from a whole host of unknown writers who “desecrated everything sacred in the social order of the Old Regime.

“A prolific literary underworld disseminated a vast illegal literature that conveyed a seditious ideology to readers everywhere in France.”

This honourable tradition of pamphleteering was itself born out of an earlier revolution, the English Civil War in the mid-17th century.

In his 1948 introduction to “British pamphleteers” – a collection of classic pamphlets ranging from John Milton to Jonathan Swift – George Orwell noted that the pamphlet was special because it was inherently subversive.

“A pamphlet is a short piece of polemical writing aimed at a large public, it is written because there is something that one wants to say now, and because one believes there is no other way of getting a hearing.

“A pamphlet may be written either ‘for’ or ‘against’ somebody or something, but in essence it is always a protest.”

Orwell continued, “If one had not a certain faith in democracy, one would not write political pamphlets, one would try to get one’s end by intriguing among influential people.”

Accordingly, “pamphleteering will flourish when there is some great struggle”.

There are signs that today the lost revolutionary art of pamphleteering may well be making a welcome return, albeit not quite in a form Orwell ever imagined.

It strikes me that the recent explosion of political “blogging” – resulting from the development of new technology which allows anyone with internet access to freely publish their thoughts online on a weblog – may well be ushering in another great “age of pamphleteering”.

The significance of the rise of blogging is often overstated, but the rapidity of its rise in popularity remains remarkable. Technorati, a blog search engine, tracked 100,000 blogs at the start of 2003, and today, two years on, it is estimated there are over 65 million.

In another few years, who knows how many people will write blogs?

Some will argue that such a comparison of blogs with pamphlets is flawed as most blogs are not political – and many are of relevance only to those who know that individual blogger.

Yet as Orwell noted of pamphlets, “Of course, most pamphlets do not deserve attention. Most of them are rubbish. This must have been true at all times.”

Orwell remained a champion of the pamphlet nevertheless, for reasons which seem equally applicable to the modern blog:

“In a pamphlet one can do things that are possible in no other medium... Above all, the pamphlet does not have to follow any prescribed pattern.

“It can be in prose or in verse, it can consist largely of maps or statistics or quotations, it can take the form of a story, a fable, a letter, an essay, a dialogue, or a piece of ‘reportage’. All that is required of it is that is shall be topical, polemical and short.”

As Orwell concluded, “The great function of the pamphlet is to act as a sort of footnote or marginal comment on official history.

“It not only keeps unpopular viewpoints alive, but supplies documentation on events that the authorities of the day have reason to falsify. It is a job that needs doing in all ages, and surely never more than in the present one.”

“It might be argued that in England, with its free and reasonably varied press, there is not much scope for the pamphleteer. But this will not be endorsed by anyone who has ever tried to get a hearing for a genuinely unpopular cause at any given moment there is a sort of all-prevailing orthodoxy, a general tacit agreement not to discuss some large and uncomfortable fact.”

Orwell would not have been surprised by the tacit agreement among all sections of the powerful corporate media to avoid discussion of the large and rather uncomfortable fact that George Bush and Tony Blair are mass murderers, war criminals with the blood of countless numbers of dead on their hands.

I suspect Orwell would have been heartened by the way in which anti-war and anti-capitalist bloggers are beginning to challenge the dominance of ruling class ideas on the internet.

In upholding the tradition of pamphleteering and defending the truth from those in power, the best political blogs out there are truly modern footnotes on official history.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Electric Rail NOW!

Electrify NOW! Monday 2nd April 2007 7:30pm Methodist Mission Hall 370 Queen Street Auckland (opposite the Town Hall) There is an urgent need to electrify Auckland rail. The system is based on old, polluting diesel trains, bursting at the seams at rush hour. The Prime Minister has supported the idea of electrifying the Auckland rail system, but real commitment is needed now. The Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) need to order $170m worth of new trains in the next few weeks, and this money could be spent on electric trains if the government promises to support electrification in the coming years. If not it means more diesels, more smoke, and more going nowhere. Support us in pressuring central government to help finance the electrification of Auckland's rail system over the coming years. Green Forum is hosting "Electrify Auckland's Rail NOW!" a public forum on Auckland's transport system. With your support this meeting will help pressure the labour government into making the right choice, in time. Many notable and informed speakers have been lined up for this event, including Auckland Regional Council Chair Mike Lee and Councillor Joel Cayford, Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons and Cam Pitches from "Campaign for Better Transport". Join in the call for better Auckland public transport - a large crowd will send a strong message to Finance Minister Michael Cullen that Aucklanders are serious about electrification. Promote this meeting and spread the message about why a decision to go electric is needed soon. For more details contact Green MPs Auckland Office 09 302 0166 greenmps.auckland (at)

Sunday 18 March 2007

"Our future is not in empire!"

Pictures from Auckland's contribution to world-wide antiwar protest, March 17th. Thanks to Indymedia.

Hugo Chávez interviewed on prime-time American TV

Noted journalist Barbara Walters interviews the President of Venezuela, 2007 March 16.

Tuesday 13 March 2007

"The cops should be afraid of us!"

Green Left Weekly reports on the marches in Auckland and Wellington on International Women's Day against police rapists.

Sunday 11 March 2007

The new UNITY reviewed

Ben Courtice writes in Green Left Weekly:
“System change not climate change” reads the cover of the December edition of NZ Marxist journal Unity. The contents amount to a comprehensive overview of the climate change threat — its physical workings, its political causes, measures to overcome it and action to take. For political grounding and stimulating ideas for action, this small booklet is indispensable. It should be on every socialist campaign stall and bookshelf.
Read the rest here.

Police Rape: The Tip of the Iceberg

(a leaflet written by Socialist Worker women for the International Women's Day marches in Auckland and Wellington) We are told that the police are there to protect us. But who will protect us from the police? Clint Rickards and his rapist cronies are just the tip of the iceberg of a system which not only condones but supports violence and abuse of power. Rape is not about sex at all – it's an act of power and violence. And those are two things that the police are good at. The police are nothing more than a gang - the biggest, best equipped gang out there. Like other gangs, they wear patches, have a code of honour, and band together against outsiders. Internal police culture is all about bullying and intimidation – not only of their prisoners and the general public, but of those lower down in their pecking order. They aren't there to defend us – they are there to defend our rulers, their property and their power. Compare how many police you see in the “nice suburbs”, compared to the places where working people live. The justice system is also set up to benefit the powerful over the powerless. Only five percent of rape cases are reported – women know perfectly well that it's usually not worth it going through the humiliation of the judicial process. Defence lawyers do their best in any rape trial to make it look as if the defendant somehow “asked for it”. Rape is a means of intimidation - and not for just women and children either. Just look at how this culture laughs and winks at the idea of men raping other men in prison - this, they say, is what happens if you step out of line. It's not just the police who target women, of course. Despite the offical concerns about the high rate of domestic violence and murder, violence against women in our society is still tolerated. While some women become Prime Minister or bosses of big corporations, most women are concentrated in low paying, low status jobs. This is not a simple question of men oppressing women. Ordinary men do not benefit from their wives, sisters and partners being poorly paid and under constant threat of humilation and violence. No-one in our society is free while women are treated like second class citizens. We need social change that will bring a living wage and free childcare for all. We need contraception and abortion on demand. We need to call a halt to the criminalisation of women raising children alone. And we need a better way to bring justice for rape victims. The only kind of society that can provide that is a society based on human need rather than profit – a socialist society. By organising and fighting back against sexism and police abuse, we are building the struggle for a better world right here and now. Women in the 1960s and 70s got angry at the way women were treated and won some important gains, but we haven't gone far enough. We need to make sure that Clint Rickards and people like him can no longer get away with abusing and humiliating the rest of us. It's time for women – and men - to get angry again!

WHERE WE STAND: Socialist Worker's ten-point programme

(Final text as adopted at the Socialist Worker national conference, 24-25 February 2007.)  

1. Workers power, not bosses power
Profit, the fuel of capitalism, flows from the dual exploitation of labour and nature. Workers collectively create a vast surplus which is monopolised by the tiny elite who run the economy and the state. Out of this systemic exploitation of the many by the few grow all of capitalism’s inequalities, oppressions, crises, wars and alienations. Marxists stand for full union rights, including the unrestricted right to strike. Rebuilding the union movement around a strategy of workers power is central to challenging bosses power, which tramples on our birthright, our freedom, our humanity, our habitat and our future. Socialists aim to get rid of class divisions by building a global democracy of free producers with common property rights.  

2. Democratic state, not bureaucratic state
Under capitalism, democracy is extremely restricted. Corporate bosses make most economic decisions, which impact on every other sphere of society. Top administrators, judges, military officers, police commanders and other state bureaucrats are not elected, and to a large and growing extent are outside the control of elected politicians. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Today in Venezuela, the election of president Hugo Chavez on a platform of “21st century socialism” is interacting with a quickening revolutionary process. The empowerment of communal councils and other organisations of popular governance is seen as critical by Venezuela’s socialists. Such a process also took off with the 1917 socialist revolution in Russia, but economic ruination and imperialist encirclement soon shattered its working class foundations. As workers councils fell apart in the Soviet Union, the vacuum was filled by Stalin’s party bureaucrats, who formed a new ruling class during the 1920s and veered onto a state capitalist course. Russia and Venezuela show that organisations of mass democracy are vital to creating a sustainable alternative to capitalism. Marxists stand for the taking of state power by elected assemblies of workers and other grassroots delegates, with no special privileges and recallable at any time. History shows that only such democratic assemblies can give direct expression to workers power. We can begin by introducing a similar spirit of democracy into every workers organisation in Aotearoa, especially our unions.  

3. Planning for people, not profit
Global market competition makes rational planning impossible. Capitalism’s “logic” of profit maximisation and wealth accumulation fuels the market-driven insanity of imperial wars, economic crises and climate chaos. Marxists stand for a socialist world where democratic associations of producers plan the economy in the interests of all humanity and other species we share the planet with. The production and distribution of social goods and services should be determined by democratic assemblies, not market forces. Strategic economic assets vital to community well-being, such as power, telecoms, water, healthcare, education, transport and large-scale manufacturing, need to be under public control. As a first step, the privatisations of recent decades must be reversed. An expansion of public services should be funded by taxing corporate bosses and other members of the wealthy elite, who owe a massive debt to the working class exploited since the birth of capitalism.  

4. System change, not climate change
Capitalism’s obsession with private profit is literally costing us the earth. Climate change and interlinked forms of nature’s spoilation, like species extinction, ecosystem pollution and resource depletion, threaten humanity with barbarism or oblivion. Unless industrial nations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by something like 90% over the next few decades, climate chaos may make our world uninhabitable. Capitalism’s embrace of carbon trading will give the market, the main driver of global warming, even more extreme powers over the fate of humanity. Marxists stand for a socialist world where capitalism’s many wasteful and polluting industries are made redundant by the absence of money, the market and ruling elites. For starters, free and frequent public transit should serve urban areas, longhaul trucking should be replaced by state-run electric rail and coastal shipping, a methane tax should fund reductions to New Zealand’s worst greenhouse gas, and coal for export should be banned.
5. Human solidarity, not imperial divisions
Rivalry between the world’s competing ruling classes “spontaneously” generates divisions of nationality, ethnicity and religion. These class-created divisions are often exploited for military purposes when “normal” economic and diplomatic competition among capitalism’s rivals heats up into shooting wars. Nationalistic hatred, racist scapegoating and religious bigotry are fanned by warring states to mobilise their home population behind their imperial ambitions. This has been taken to an extreme in Washington’s falsely named War On Terror. The overarching objective is to compensate for America’s relative economic decline through the US state’s more aggressive projection of global military superiority, crushing weak nations and pressuring rival powers. The US ruling class is resorting to high-risk terrorism in a mad campaign to bend the world to its will. US president George Bush has called for a “war without end”. Washington has rewritten its rules of warfare to legalise nuclear first strikes, bringing the world closer to nuclear holocaust than ever before. Muslims are demonised, dehumanised and destroyed by the US state and its allies in a vile strategy of divide-and-conquer. Marxists stand for human solidarity in the face of imperial divisions. We should build the broadest possible alliance against the US rogue state and other capitalist warmakers. An important message to take into the peace movement is the need to confront capitalism’s twin engines of war: the state and the market. Behind each state’s war machine stand the corporate bosses whose drive for profit is the fuel feeding the flames. Creating a socialist alternative to the market rips up the roots of war.
6. Human freedom, not capitalism’s oppressions
The history of capitalism is marked by the systemic oppression of indigenous peoples, workers, ethnic minorities, women and non-heterosexuals. Capitalism in New Zealand was born out of the colonial takeover of collectivised Maori land by armed forces, market forces and political pressures, forcing tangata whenua to the bottom of the social heap where most remain to this day. The colonial state inflated the price of alienated Maori land to lock most immigrants into the lowly status of workers, who to this day suffer from massive political discrimination in areas as diverse as industrial relations, tax law, parliamentary representation, state appointments and official history. Ethnic minorities in New Zealand have been savaged by waves of state-sponsored racism, like the early tax on Chinese immigrants, the “white European” policies of most of the 20th century, the police dawn raids on Pasifika peoples in the 1970s, the “Asian invasion” hysteria whipped up by prominent politicians in the 1990s and today’s special laws and police spying on Muslims. Capitalism’s drive to reproduce the next generation of workers on the cheap created a “family values” system which devalued women, whose second-class status to this day is measured by such things as lower average pay than men, restrictions on abortion rights and a lack of state support for child rearers. The same “family values” scourge also hit people who didn’t neatly fit into the heterosexual category, and to this day lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people face pervasive discrimination despite legal near-equality. Such oppressions foster divisions among workers and other grassroots people which play into the hands of our rulers, whose system could not survive a united challenge from below. Marxists stand for the freedom of all humans, which is the only real basis for the freedom of each individual. We support the struggles of Maori, workers, ethnic minorities, women and non-heterosexuals for the rights, opportunities and liberties routinely denied them by capitalism today.  

7. Maori collectivism, not neo-colonialism 

The British colonialists, at the time of signing Te Tiriti o Waitangi in 1840, faced whakaminenga of strong Maori iwi founded on the principle of collectivism. While in theory the treaty “guaranteed” to Maori their whenua, taonga and tino rangatiratanga, these foundation stones of indigenous power were in practice seen as antagonistic to the interests of the British empire. The unprovoked invasion of the Waikato in the 1860s, along with other colonial wars to seize Maori land, were designed to break the back of tino rangatiratanga. Capitalism’s market and state could not tolerate peaceful competition from the “beastly communism” of Maori, in the telling phrase of one colonial politician. The New Zealand Parliament facilitated the alienation of most Maori land. The few acres remaining in the hands of tangata whenua were often de-collectivised by laws placing effective power in the hands of tumu whakahaere. These boards of trustees made all commercial decisions, thus sidelining the hapu or iwi as a whole and striking at the heart of Maori collectivism. Despite official predictions that the “natives” would die out as a distinct people, however, Maori searched out every channel of resistance left open.
More than a century of whakataunga, petihana, tawheraiti, hikoi, toutohe, mahi poti and other forms of tohenga to historic injustices forced governments to start making concessions to Maori in the 1980s. But capitalism’s underlying hatred of Maori collectivism remains strong. The treaty settlements are designed to empower a minority of “corporate warriors”, not the majority of flaxroots Maori. As Aotearoa’s version of neocolonialism, this is fueling divisions within the ranks of Maori between the market-driven profiteers and the ohu-leaning exploited. Marxists stand on the side of the exploited at the same time as we support all Maori calls for treaty compensations and tino rangatiratanga. The collectivist heritage of Maori, which is an indigenous forerunner of socialism, is a source of strength for all grassroots struggles in our land. The history of Aotearoa points to the need for mana hapori as a collectivist alternative to capitalism.  

8. Workers internationalism, not corporate globalisation
The explosion of corporate globalisation since the late 1970s has increased market pressures in every corner of the world. In rich industrialised countries like New Zealand, the welfare state has been hacked back over recent decades while the wealth gap between bosses and workers widens into a chasm. Third World nations are facing ruinous debt, asset stripping and imperial domination, reducing their grassroots to conditions of terrible poverty and often starvation. The world’s top 500 multinational corporations are raking in obscene profits and taking over “national” businesses in every country, backed by powerful states whose military spending alone could solve humanity’s most urgent food, water and healthcare needs while funding a global shift to clean energy technologies. Corporate globalisation holds the world to ransom in order to increase the profits and power of a tiny elite. Marxists stand for workers internationalism, where the grassroots of every country unite in a common struggle for human salvation and ecological sanity. New Zealand activists must build closer links with workers in Australia, the Pacific and Asia as an antidote to ruling class moves to create a regional free trade zone which would increase the power of capital over labour. We support independence movements in West Papua and other colonies of the Indonesian state, along with people’s resistance to Australian and New Zealand neo-colonialism in East Timor, Papua New Guinea and the Solomons.  

9. New workers party, not old Labour 
  The world’s old Labour parties are adapting to corporate globalisation, not fighting for a grassroots alternative. They are shifting away from social democracy, which once demanded significant concessions for workers in return for acting as capitalism’s “loyal opposition”. They are moving closer to the neo-liberal agenda of big business, and their leading bodies are dominated by the new middle class rather than union officials. The most apt description of NZ Labour today is “social-liberal”. The working class in Aotearoa still casts more votes for old Labour than any other party, but the organisational and emotional bonds of generations past have long gone. Marxists stand for the creation of a new workers party which can unite grassroots people around a broad left platform and open up the road towards socialism. The 10-point Workers Charter, which has been endorsed by the NZ Council of Trade Unions, is based on meeting the needs of grassroots people rather than the ruling elite. Further steps towards creating a broad left alternative to social-liberalism are being made possible by a revival of mass struggles, both here and offshore. When a new workers party arises and starts to win seats in parliament, this electoral legitimacy will give a huge boost to people’s movements against corporate rule.  

10. Socialist revolution, not reformed capitalism
The space to deliver grassroots reforms through parliament alone is being shut down by corporate globalisation. Reforms can still be won on the back of mass struggles, but they are harder to achieve than in times gone and likely to be smaller. No longer do old Labour politicians talk about a “fundamental reform of capitalism”, let alone a “peaceful road to socialism”. Marxists stand for a revolutionary break with capitalism. History shows that no ruling class will ever peacefully hand over economic and state power simply because the majority of society have voted against the old order. Economic sabotage, military coups and foreign interventions are some of the weapons used by corporate elites to stave off grassroots challenges to their rule. Overcoming capitalist violence is a decisive stage in the journey to socialist democracy. A vital ingredient for success is organic leadership from a large Marxist group composed of the best activists in workers unions and grassroots coalitions. The centralisation of the capitalist state demands a counter-centralisation by the revolutionary movement. As workers change the old society, they will change themselves as well, and begin to equip themselves to collectively run a new society without bosses on top. We call on all non-sectarian activists who want a revolutionary break with capitalism to join Socialist Worker.